This is a short, utterly fictional, copyrighted story.
Seneca the Elder Tells the Story of the Orbit
Honest-to-fucking-god, it’s the things you don’t know. You know? I mean you don’t, of course, but you know what I mean. For instance: You don’t know that here at Seneca Lake in Midstate New York, the trout outnumber the people and people like me come here to relish that fact. You can take that as a prompt to piss off, by the way. You don’t know that this bench I’m sitting on bears up the ass of only 34.967 persons per day, but you might know that the Syracuse bus system’s bench near the McDonald’s serves about the same per hour. And that difference—boy, it’s a difference of magnitude—is the sort of qualitative difference that drives people like me from the desk to this bench. It’s like a one-way from the womb to the tomb in that you’re led by divine compulsion and poorly conceived metaphor. It’s like metamorphosis, in that you feel too debonair to go back when you spread out your new wings. It’s like nuclear fallout, in that you’ve finally found air you can breathe. Why go back? If you’re smart, you don’t.
There are a lot of different ways you can get called Seneca. You can be the poorly understood prophet of suburbia, isolated in a sea of pastel and white and revered as the only dark skinned person any of your neighbors regularly see. They can’t tell if you’re from Tenochtitlan, Madrid or Uzbekistan, but you tell them you’re from the reservation. Or you can inherit the name from your father and be remembered as the obscure tutor of Emperor Nero. You can white knuckle your way through an impossible marriage and escape it with your life, a change-of-name decree and little else. Your options are practically limitless, if you think about it. In my case, call me the Prophet. Don’t call me Seneca though because what the actual fuck, I just told you what to call me.
I’m here to tell you all the things you don’t know because it makes me feel good to play the pedagogue. Just come sit on my knee and I’ll tell you all the secrets of the world. I know ’em all, and that’s why you should call me the Prophet. Not because that’s a convenient way for you to know how I got my name – no, so much more. Like all forbidden knowledge and arcane portent, my story for you begins with a woman. I want you to imagine her, but that would defeat the point of my story. See, you don’t know what she looks like and neither do I. Neither does my son, Seneca the Younger. In fact, he’s never met her. You’ve never met her, I’ve never met her, my own son’s never met her. So you might wonder in what sense this lady has any appreciable value to any story I might tell. Well, she had this form of magic, you know. It’s a magic that’s unlike any you’ve ever seen. It’s called “the orbit” and this power, although she doesn’t wield it personally, is fucking powerful. I promise you.
It’s called the orbit because at first you feel like a comet, and you’re barreling through the universe without a speck of interest in what happens next. But when the orbit falls on you, you feel more like a moon. The orbit is how comets become moons, or to put it more bluntly, how sad saps like my son fall in love. It all started on the Syracuse Centro bus system. My sad, sad son, that poor leech, was taking the bus early in the morning as usual, sitting on the bench as usual, sipping his morning tree bean crank as usual, when something so ordinary happened that it was so insignificant that no one even fucking noticed it happen. This girl, which none of us have ever seen, sat down next to him. It was so unremarkable my son didn’t even notice. He didn’t even notice. You want details. Yeah, get in line. What did she look like? Was she tall, short, hot, not, white, black, young, old? Yeah, even I don’t know that. And I know everything.
This single event, it meant nothing at all. Until it happened again. It happened over and over, and my son didn’t even begin to notice it was happening for months. And you know how he noticed? Of course you don’t. She didn’t show up one morning. He knew that she didn’t show up because when he sat down, sipped his tepid cup, and fought off the sleep in his eyes, some guy sat next to him. The guy scuffed his arm and ruffled his shirt when he so innocently sat down and at that moment, panic set into my son. He looked immediately, and even spoke. He goes Excuse me! and sternly glares at the guy. This poor guy. My son, he notices the guy and immediately blushes, apologizes, stands up, moves a few feet to the left, and stands at the curb until the bus arrives. What did he expect? And all the while my son is thinking, Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
He doesn’t even know why, but he’s distraught. He’s distraught not because of the socially inappropriate, disquieting encounter with Shill #1, but because of the Orbit. You don’t know this so I’ll fill in the blanks for you. For months and months my son sat there and rubbed elbows with this woman, and he did it for so long, his body began to understand things that even he didn’t understand. His elbow knew her elbow was compatible. His nostrils knew that her smell was reliably pleasant. His hands knew that they were watched, and the watcher approved of them. His ears noticed a symphonic silence about her, a measured nothingness. What you and my son don’t know is that although his brain never initialized, his body wanted nothing more than to spend each and every morning in her presence. And the very second she was gone, his senses protested. They raged. They nagged. He stood up on the bus and he went to the front and asked the bus attendant. The bus attendant told him he saw 1000 women of that description every day, to get lost. He asked some of the regulars. Surely they knew. He approached the lanky college student with the glasses and the beanie, he approached the reincarnation of Sylvia Plath that sat at the back reading black, handmade volumes with no words on the cover every Tuesday morning. And it was a Tuesday, you know. She didn’t know her. No one knew her. He asked everyone. When he got to work, he thought about how he might learn who she was. His elbows ached. His mind yearned for that feeling, that inimitable feeling that was now, irreconcilably lost. My son was officially a moon in orbit. In her orbit. He was her satellite, and she was gone.
Or so you might suppose, knowing nothing. In fact, if you knew anything about how an orbit works, the moon doesn’t get lost. It just goes out of sight. So you won’t be surprised when I tell you that when my son got off of work that Friday and opened up the front door to head to his stop, he saw a woman walk past him on the opposite side of the street. The street with five lanes. You imagine that he’s played Frogger before and he knows what happens when you run across five lanes, because he doesn’t cross the road. What does my son do? He walks—no, runs—parallel to her down the same street she’s headed down but on the opposite side, attempting to catch glimpses. Every time he looks to see whether it’s her, there’s some giant truck in the way. He looks at the pavement, he looks up, he curses Henry Ford. He looks at the pavement, he looks up, he curses the world, generally. And as he looks up a third time, he just catches her getting onto the bus. She’s riding a new bus, my son thinks, and when I think about this nonsense it makes me groan.
Every day my son sees a glimpse of this girl, barely perceptible and always in motion. He sees her getting her coffee, or rather her heel as it escapes indoors. He sees her ascending the stoop of a nearby apartment just in time to also see the door close. He sees her but only barely over the top of the screen of her laptop. He sees her working her job at the department store through the window as he walks by. Not a day goes by where my son doesn’t see this woman, but what he fails to notice is that he has changed his entire routine. He now walking to work instead of taking the bus. He now wakes up a little earlier, and he changed his work schedule slightly to account for some inexpressible interest.
But the real kicker, the absolute clincher to all this, is when his coworker, Karl, points out that he wonders why my son doesn’t bring in his girlfriend. My son splutters like an ass, and asks him what he means. And his coworker retorts, You know, that one girl you’re always hanging around. When are you going to introduce her? At this point my son is panicked and he clenches up in a knot of terror. People know, he intones under his breath. They know. They know. They know. But as he chanted this underneath his breath, in his mind, as the words raced through his little mind, it dawned on him that he didn’t know what they knew. I know, right? He thought about it long and hard, his blank face like a target for the social condemnation of the office. He returned my son’s empty stare, wondering what he’d said wrong. And my son finally came to. He realized that they didn’t know anything, and neither did he. He tried to place her face in his mind, but he drew a blank. He tried to remember where she worked, but it didn’t click. He tried to remember when he met her, but it was so long ago he wasn’t sure. Had he met her? He didn’t know. His blank face became more and more void.
That’s when he came to me. He came to me and he said, Dad, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know where to turn. I quit my job, I came here, I have nothing, I’m lost and worried. Can I live with you? Now we’re sitting on this god-forsaken bench together, and I just don’t know.